Lines less traveled

If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to check out Logan Laplante’s TEDx talk about how he’s taken charge of his education, organizing his life around a commitment to being happy, healthy, and fostering creativity.

There’s just one small thing I wish Logan had taken a step further. He says that to follow a traditional educational trajectory is like skiing one well-worn line down a mountain, while designing a program for yourself is like heading off into the powder to blaze your own trail.  I’m with him up to the part where he says that the shared line is probably safer.  In the snow it may be, but when you’re building a life, I’m not so sure.

I think it may once have been, but it’s getting less and less safe to traverse the common route.  The competition is so great for the handful of spots there are to fill along the way (in the “best” colleges, “best” graduate schools, the “best” jobs) that it’s no longer a fail-safe way to build a life.  We just keep saying it is because the powder makes us nervous.  The powder’s unknown.  We’d rather take our chances on the thing that will almost certainly work out for some people, even if it’s only a very, very small percentage, than head off into the powder where everyone probably has an approximately equal chance of making it, because there are so many more routes possible and winning spots doesn’t matter so much, if it matters at all.

We’re not safer on the route we know.  We’re just more comfortable there.

I’m so grateful to Logan for the framework he offers, simply and frankly, in this talk. Logan lives in the kind of world I think we could build for everyone, where vitality is of the utmost value and importance and can, in fact, be the best possible guide.

What looks like lazy… (part one)

Here’s another round of question and response; this one is an abridged collection of several versions (from different parents) of this concern.  I’m posting my response in two parts over two days, as it’s lengthy (even in two parts!)… If this struggle sounds familiar, I hope you’ll find my response helpful.

My daughter never seems to follow through on things. I always encourage her to do her best, but she doesn’t even know what she’s capable of because she doesn’t really try and always just does as little as she can get away with.  Like if I ask her to clean her room, she does it well enough that there’s nothing I can complain about exactly, but it’s not really ever done well.  Or if I ask her to write a thank-you note to her grandmother, I know she can do a neater job and come up with more interesting things to say than she does.  When she does her math assignments, they’re never done as carefully as I know she could do them.  I feel like she’s just being lazy.  I’ve tried to teach her to value good work and commitment but it seems like I haven’t succeeded. How can I get her to apply herself and do the best she can? Continue reading

Thinking like

I came across this quotation from Douglas Wheeler, a lawyer and advocate for the preservation and protection of natural resources:

“To halt the decline of an ecosystem, it is necessary to think like an ecosystem.”

The quotation reminded me of a conversation I once had with a mom about her 12 year-old son.  The two were seeing eye-to-eye on fewer and fewer issues and situations as he got older, engaged in more and more frustrating power struggles. At one point I asked what her son thought about something, and she said, “It’s nice that you’re such an advocate for the child’s point of view, but I have to be concerned about whether or not he’s getting what he needs to make it in the world.”

There’s no doubt that I failed in that conversation to offer what I intended to offer – the possibility that including her son’s view and experience could in fact improve the situation for both of them.  I meant to convey that considering a child’s point of view can not only give the child voice but serve the interests of the parent who wants the best for that child.  It’s not either/or.

The beliefs we have about what children do and don’t need – how they should and shouldn’t behave – have a tendency to set us opposite them, rather than beside them and behind them (because so often they don’t just cheerfully go along with us about those dos and don’ts).  This mom who found herself frustrated by the suggestion that she consider where her child was coming from was stuck in a realm of adult vs. child. There was no room for her actual son in the fulfillment of the goals she’d set for him and the desires she had for his behavior.  He didn’t get to participate, and thus had no particular interest in how it turned out.  His mom’s best shot at getting him where she wanted him to be (capable and confident and accomplished), was to explore, as deeply as she possibly could, the world as it was from his perspective.  As long as she was committed to the position that he just needed to come around, without consideration of where he was coming from, they were both stuck.  And it wasn’t getting either of them what they were after. That’s the real tragedy.  If the age-old approach were working, it’d be one thing.  But if it’s not, how can it be worth the cost?

Too many kids, like too many ecosystems, are on the decline, and we often refuse to think like they do in our efforts to help turn things around.  We keep thinking like adults trying to force outcomes rather than thinking like the people who are inside of what’s actually going on.  If we did, we could choose our actions from a place of understanding rather than sheer will and insistence.  When we put ourselves in kids’ shoes and watch the world even for a few minutes from there, we get a whole lot more to work with.